A Kenyan agricultural report predicts that donkeys will be “wiped out” in the country by 2023 if the skin trade continues.
The same report, by The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), also warned that welfare in the slaughterhouses is likely to be compromised. It found that the number of donkeys slaughtered was more than five times the number of bullets sourced by the slaughterhouses for use in stunning donkeys before slaughter, suggesting horrific welfare compromises are taking place.
International charity Brooke Action for Working Horses and Donkeys is calling for a ban on the trade of donkey skins in Kenya and a crackdown on cross border smuggling of donkeys into Kenya for their skins. This follows a massive decrease in donkey numbers and increase in the slaughter of donkeys, which people in Kenya rely on for their livelihoods.
In Kenya the slaughter is legal, with four licensed slaughterhouses opening since 2016, the latest near the border with Ethiopia, which promotes smuggling of donkeys into Kenya. Up to 1000 donkeys can be legally slaughtered every day, but hundreds more are killed illegally. Theft is rife, and in 2017 up to 60 a week were being stolen and often slaughtered in the bush. This reduced to just over 20 a week in 2018, due in part to Brooke East Africa’s efforts, but it is feared this will rise again with the ongoing increasing demand.
There was an equine influenza outbreak across seven West African countries early this year, and in Niger alone, the death toll was 62,000 donkeys. The World Organisation for Animal Health has suggested the outbreaks were caused by the illegal movement of animals.
The smuggling of donkeys across African country borders carries a huge risk to welfare and health, as reported by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in May 2019. In April 2019, Brooke witnessed an outbreak of equine flu in West Africa, which killed more than 60,000 donkeys in Niger alone. The OIE reported that it was thought to be linked to the illegal movement of animals.
Brooke also wants to see a ban on the products produced from donkey skin. Donkeys across the world are being slaughtered for their skins to meet an ever-increasing demand from China. The skins are used to produce ‘ejiao’, a product used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The treatment of donkeys in this process is often horrific and is having a huge impact on the livelihoods of people, as well as the population of donkeys.
The demand for donkey skins from China is around 8 to 10 million skins per year but annual supply in China is less than 1.8 million.
“The donkey skin trade is decimating the population of donkeys in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and Kenya has become the epicentre of this issue within Africa,” said Brooke’s Chief Executive Petra Ingram. “The figures are now unsustainable. We’ve reached crisis point.”
Brooke has previously spearheaded community-led initiatives to protect their donkeys. Now it wants to step up its efforts to protect the livelihoods of donkey owners like Kisima.
Kisima, a widowed mother of nine children, woke up in the middle of the night to find that one of her two donkeys had been stolen. Already living close to the poverty line, the theft of one of her donkeys had a profound impact on the lives of her and her children. Whilst she was eventually able to save up the money to buy another donkey, her daughter had to spend an entire term out of school.
She said: “My whole life I have relied on the donkey; it feeds me and my family and educates my children too.”
Brooke is soon to release research results that show some of the long-term negative impacts of the trade on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Fred Ochieng, CEO of Brooke East Africa added that donkey owners are telling the charity that “enough is enough”.
“We’re putting more resources into lobbying the government to get their voices heard. We’ll also continue to work on the front line with people dealing with this crisis, supporting initiatives to protect their donkeys and alert local governments.”
Over the coming weeks, Brooke will be increasing and improving initiatives to help people protect their donkeys, helping communities petition the government, and campaigning through Kenyan media. It will also be conducting research into the extent of donkey smuggling.
» To support Brooke’s work to tackle the trade, go to thebrooke.org/crisis.
- The most recent census of donkeys in Kenya (2009) recorded that there were 8 million donkeys in the country, but KALRO’s report suggests this number is in such a decline, that donkeys in Kenya could be wiped out by 2023.
- The same report said that in 2018, 159,631 donkeys were slaughtered for their skins, translating to 8.1% of the population. This does not account for donkeys that are illegally stolen and slaughtered outside of slaughterhouses.
- Between 2016 and 2018, 25 per cent of the donkeys slaughtered were assumed to be working and would have generated Sh28.3bn, almost £220k.